Dear Mr. Dad: Just after our first trimester, my wife and I lost our baby. I’ve been focusing on being there for her and supporting her every way I can. But this miscarriage has hit me pretty hard too and I’m having a tough time coping. Part of the problem is that I feel guilty about having feelings at all—after all, she’s the one who had the miscarriage. And anyway, there’s really no one for me to talk to about it. Am I alone in feeling this way?
A: You’re definitely not alone. People tend to think of miscarriage (and just about everything else associated with pregnancy) as affecting only women. But that’s simply not true. Although we men don’t have to endure the physical pain, there’s no question that emotionally, the experience of losing a baby is very much the same. Like our pregnant partner, we have fantasies and dreams and hopes for our unborn child. And, like our pregnant partner, when a pregnancy ends prematurely, most of us are hit with profound feelings of sadness. Many also feel guilty and/or inadequate, as if there was something we could have or should have done to prevent the tragedy.
The biggest difference between men’s and women’s experience is the way we express our grief. Women are much more comfortable grieving openly. They talk to—and get support from—family, friends, and others. Guys, true to stereotype, tend to keep our feelings to ourselves and are very reluctant to discuss them with anyone—especially those closest to us. You captured that perfectly when you wrote that you “feel guilty about having feelings at all.”
Like it or not, your feelings are real, and the more emotional support you can get, the better off you’ll be. The first person to talk with may be the hardest for you to approach: your wife. Keep being supportive and sympathetic, but tell her how you’re feeling too. Yes, she wants you to be there for her. But she also wants to know that you were just as excited about the baby as she was. Sounds odd, but the fact that you’re grieving shows that you were committed.
If she’s too focused on her own needs now to support you the way you need her to, talk to someone else. You started the process by writing to me, but your therapist, rabbi, priest, or close friend—in particular a guy you know who’s gone through the same thing—are better options.
If you feel like you need more than a conversation or two, there are a number of in-person or online groups, some for couples, others for dads only. Ask your wife’s OB for recommendations. I’ve spoken to several men who’ve attended groups like this and almost all mentioned that the other people in the group were the first ones to ask them how they were feeling after the loss. That’s huge. More than 30 years ago, a girlfriend and I lost a baby. And while everyone we knew asked me how she was doing, no one asked how I was. But whether anyone asks or not, being in a group of people who’ve been through the same thing will give you a chance to stop being strong for someone else and fully experience what you’re going through.
If you’re not the kind of guy who wants to hang out with a group of people who share nothing but sadness, that’s okay. But don’t ignore your feelings or try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. That may make you feel a little better in the short term, but you’ll slow down the healing process and may even create other problems (the kind that come from drug or alcohol abuse) that could harm your relationship with your wife or cause other long-term damage.